Hot Lake Springs, which served as a hospital a century ago, may be returning to its roots in less than two years. A four-partner coalition is making plans to convert Hot Lake Springs to a $42 million privately funded, non-profit, self-sustaining veterans restorative care center in less than two years.

The objective of the care center would be to reduce the high suicide rate of American veterans, said retired Lt. Col. John Bickel, of McKinney, Texas, during a public meet and greet at Hot Lake Springs on Saturday.

Bickel, a leader of the Veterans Restorative Care Center project, said that an average of 22 American veterans commit suicide each day and that more needs to be done to help them address the physical, emotional and mental issues they face due to their time in service.

“It is unconscionable. We are the richest nation in the world and we can’t help our veterans get the help they need,” Bickel said.

Bickel said the care center would be for wounded veterans, those hurt not just physically but also suffering from conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The care center would feature a less invasive, natural approach to medicine, as well as education, vocational and recreational resources for veterans and their families.

“We are going to do something that is not the solution, but part of the solution,” Bickel said.

The project has four partners: the Warrior Bonfire Program, which was founded to provide opportunities that improve the lives of veterans wounded in combat; Hot Lake Springs, a 44-room lodge owned by David and Lee Manuel who have spent the last 13 years restoring it; Dyne Aquaculture of Dallas, Texas; and the National University of Natural Medicine in Portland.

NUNM would provide naturopathic health services to veterans at Hot Lake, which was a hospital from the early 1900s through at least the early 1930s. Naturopathic specialists seek to use the healing power of nature and treat the whole person, taking into account physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental and social factors, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website.

Bickel said NUNM physicians would provide natural alternatives to surgery and drugs for veterans.

“We want to provide a broader scope of health care,” he said.

Bickel said that with conventional medicine, a doctor will often meet with a veteran for a few minutes and then prescribe medication, which sometimes leads to additional health issues.

“This is a different approach with fewer side effects,” Bickel said.

Michael Chilton, speaking on behalf of NUNM on Saturday, said the idea is to draw upon the body’s power.

“We want to give the body the chance to heal itself,” said Chilton, who lives in Turner.

Bickel stressed that naturopathic medical care would be used to complement, not replace, conventional medicine. He said that while conventional medicine is not perfect, it is an integral piece of the health care puzzle.

“If I break my leg I want to see an orthopedic surgeon, not an acupuncturist,” Bickel said.

The restorative care center would also address the emotional, psychological and spiritual issues faced by veterans. Drawing from the Warrior Bonfire Program’s philosophy of healing, veterans would be provided the opportunity to go on hunting and fishing trips in the region.

Veterans would be encouraged to bring their families to the Hot Lake care center, said Sara Keyes of the Veterans Restorative Care Center project. She said this would be important at times because issues faced by veterans hit their families hard.

“When a veteran hurts, their whole family hurts,” Keyes said.

The plan is to offer services to veterans free of charge, financed with profits from an on-site aquaculture operation run by Dyne Aquaculture. Most of the fish raised at the aquaculture plant would be tilapia, said Bickel, the founder and CEO of Dyne Aquaculture.

The plant, Bickel said, would raise several million pounds of fish a year and employ 200 people. Bickel said he has found a company that has agreed to purchase all the fish produced by the Hot Lake aquaculture plant.

He said there is a market for fish raised in the United States because between 90 and 95 percent of the seafood sold here is imported. Much of the imported fish is not closely inspected for food safety, unlike that raised in the United States, he said.

The plan also includes growing vegetables via the process of hydroponics, which is a method of growing plants without soil, using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Bickel said a hydroponics plant needs much less water to operate.

The hydroponics and aquaculture plants would be operated with the aid of Hot Lake’s geothermally heated water. Not only will these operations financially support the care center, Bickel said, but they also will
provide veterans an opportunity to work and develop job skills.

The building of the aquaculture and hydroponics plants would be the final step in creating the restorative care center, said Kristen Cooper, marketing director for the Veterans Restorative Care Center project in Colorado.

The goal of the project leaders is to have the restorative care center operating within 1 to 1-1/2 years. Bickel said that the success of fundraising will ultimately determine when the restoration center is completed.

Brian Cole, of Baker City, the grant writer for the project, said private foundations will be approached as part of the fundraising process. He anticipates receiving warm receptions because of the compassion people have for vets.

“We all know veterans and their situations,” Cole said. “They offered it all, and now we need to offer it all back to them.”